Jupiter Looks, Um, Different

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New images of the planet allow astronomers to peer deeper into its stormy atmosphere.

For his high-school science-fair project, Glenn Orton chose to research Jupiter. It was 1965, and as the United States rushed toward the moon, Orton was mesmerized by the faraway planet, which he could see with his own telescope. He supplemented his project—which ended up winning the top prize—with images of Jupiter that he took himself. Decades later, Orton, now a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who studies Jupiter, still gets a thrill from looking at pictures of the planet, he told me recently. It helps that they keep getting better. This view of Jupiter is quite the departure from the depiction many of us remember from science class, of the planet as a smooth marble with Creamsicle-colored bands and that signature stormy spot. The observations that gave us that classic image only skimmed the cloud tops. But this latest effort to observe Jupiter, which has produced one of the highest-resolution shots yet, dives deeper into the atmosphere, providing a view of the planet that makes it appear to be ablaze. “This is a wavelength that our eyes don’t see,” says Candy Hansen, a planetary scientist who works on a spacecraft mission to Jupiter, “and, wow, don’t you wish we could?”